Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Public Open Space: the greatest insult…?

“It’s their place, Mac. They have a right to make of it what they can. Besides, you can’t eat scenery!”
– Local Hero

In the public reports pack that was issued before the Planning Committee (East) meeting that rejected the Gladman proposal, exactly five weeks ago, one of the (many, many) things that riled me – and still does (obviously) – was the “Provision of Public Open Space”.

The development, according to Stratford-on-Avon District Council (SDC) – as if it already existed… – “comprises an agricultural field measuring 5.4Ha (approximately)” – which is just over thirteen acres, in old money. The “Potential developable area [is] 3.9Ha (approx)”: which therefore leaves “1.5Ha (approx) of public open space, SUDs [sic] and ecology management zone…”. (This is less than four acres, in total.)

The scheme is large (up to 80 dwellings) and would put additional pressures upon existing public open space…

This means that the village would be compensated for losing a large tract of historically important, beautiful, already publicly-accessible land – as well as the irrevocable damage done to two established rights of way – by being given back a small fraction of it: but dressed up to look like Tellytubbyland – “a play area, which… officers envisage… would be a natural play area (lumps and bumps)”.

The NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework], at paragraphs 58 and 73, encourages access to high quality open spaces and opportunities for sport and recreation. Saved policies… also seek to secure appropriate standards of open space provision and therefore remain broadly consistent with the provisions of the NPPF…. Having regard to the above, where there is a deficiency in public open space, new development proposals should seek to make new provision available. The [latest] audit… indicates there is some deficiency in public open space for Tysoe.

Eh-oh! Sorry…? As one of the most rural villages in Warwickshire, I’m struggling to understand what all that green and brown (and occasionally bright yellow) – and exceeding pleasant – stuff is that Tysoe is surrounded by, as far as the eye can see; and why we have a plethora of footpath signs leading from the village – including some for the Centenary Way. Is this not extant “public open space”?

Of course it is. And it is some of the most photogenic and accessible in the country. The “deficiency” undeniably lies elsewhere.

According to the Government’s own definition, Public Open Space is an “Urban space, designated by a council, where public access may or may not be formally established, but which fulfils or can fulfil a recreational or non-recreational role (for example, amenity, ecological, educational, social or cultural usages).”

It’s hard to ignore the word “urban”, and its inherent insult – however sonorously it chimes with Gladman’s description of their proposal for Tysoe as “urban grain”: so well-suited to the bucolic Vale of the Red Horse, of course… – and I’m not entirely sure why a council has to designate the bleeding obvious… – but it is obvious to me that the current field of ridge-and-furrow meets this interpretation head-on; gives it a swift Kirkby Kiss; utters a confident shout of victory; and then proclaims its suitability for all those listed usages (and more) with a very broad and knowing grin.

Any public open space manufactured by the developers, however, would severely damage all but the amenity, of course (diluting that property from desirable to simply useful…) – cornering (if not totally dissuading) any ecological remnants; flattening the perfect and resonant history lesson that currently exists; and utterly destroying its social and cultural importance to the area and its residents.

Were we simple peasants meant to be happy at this transparent failure of an unmistakable attempt to bribe us with something that, in effect, already belongs to us – socially (or spiritually, even); if not materially?

The insult comes not with its flimsiness, I feel, but from the arrogant and patronizing attitude that pervades the whole project. Unlike the residents of Ferness, in the film Local Hero, we are not (knowingly) there for the taking. However, we are as canny about the place where we live; and still “have a right to make of it what we can”. (We also know how many g’s there are in “bugger off”.)

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